What to do in Eight Hours ashore… Kerala, India – a Cruise Excursion Guide
Back at the start of 2020 – just before the world became very, very different – we took cruise on a Dubai – Singapore route onboard Celebrity Constellation. As we were travelling to some completely unfamiliar countries and ports we decided to change our usual DIY approach to going ashore for a couple of ports partly also because we had some very short days in port. A recommendation in talkExplore Facebook group led us to take a look at the excursions from the Viator Company.
Well firstly we were immediately impressed with the prices!! A like for like tour comparison with an excursion booked through the ship was dramatically cheaper. In Kerala we wanted to visit the Backwaters of Alappuzha, from the port in Cochi which is in Southern India – the cost from Viator was £80 per person -,effectively half the price of a ‘houseboat’ trip booked through the ship for $209 (£175) each (the cruise line also offered a cheaper ‘motorboat’ trip at $129 (£107)). I was worried that the price difference meant that our tour would turn out to be of an inferior quality but we trusted the recommendation from one of our experienced talkExplore group members and so we booked it!
OUR TOUR EXPERIENCE
I turned out that we didn’t need to worry about the quality of our experience. Our group was relatively small, just 14 people and we travelled in a small, luxurious air conditioned minibus. The size of the group meant we moved quickly meaning that more was packed into our day – in fact we left the port 10 minutes ahead of schedule and so were already at the famous Chinese Fishing nets before the large coach groups from the ship had even left the port! Whilst these are an iconic image of Kerala and the men who work them are happy to explain and demonstrate their use they really are mainly a tourist attraction during the day – fishing happens at night! They are interesting and worth seeing but we only spent about 15 minutes there and that was plenty! En route to the boat we stopped for the obligatory shop for about 15 minutes for a loo break. The shop had a shady terrace outside and sold jewellery, spices and shawls – it was pleasant, clean and there was no pressure to buy.
THE BACKWATERS OF ALAPPUZA
However the main focus of the day was a tour of the Backwaters and we were extremely impressed with the houseboat that we took our trip on. It was a lovely shady, boat with a covered sitting and lounging area covered with rugs, cushions and low seating. There was a table where we later ate our lunch and two bedrooms both with ensuite,fully functioning and totally unsmelly bathrooms, which were available for our use as we floated around the canals. you can hire these boats overnight or for an even longer stay and it would certainly be a wonderful way to spend time exploring these beautiful and peaceful rivers and lakes.During the cruise we were provided with a wonderful meal which was freshly prepared and cooked in the onboard kitchen for us – fish, chicken, curries, vegetables, rice and fresh pineapple chunks. We spent almost two and a half hours on the water and covered a large area on a circular route, seeing temples and ayevedic spas on the river bank as well as some of the everyday life of people who live by the water.
THE SHIPS TOUR EXPERIENCE
We spoke to friends on board who had booked the ships excursion and that had turned out to be a very different experience – they spent a long time lining up for and reaching the coach. We calculated that we had left the Chinese Fishing nets more than an hour before they did which meant that we spent much more time on the backwaters. They also stopped at the spice shop but were there for much longer due to the time constraints of so many people on the coach. Our friends were really shocked to see pictures of our houseboat as they had been on a very different type of boat – basically a standard tourist boat, open topped, with bench like seating and very little shelter from the sun. We think they may have booked the motorboat tour in error but they were adamant that they had expected a houseboat. Our friends told us that they were aboard for only an hour or so before and done a very short stretch up and down the same bit of river before being transferred to a hotel for a buffet lunch.
A GOOD CHOICE
We definitely felt that we had made the right choice by booking through Viator (for your information the tour was actually provided by Carnival Tours in Cochin) as far as we could see we had a superior experience for a cheaper price. We were never concerned about travelling so far from the ship and in fact we were back in port about 45 minutes before All Aboard. Our driver and guide seemed very aware of the timings and of course they do give a Cruise guarantee that they will fly / get you to your next port of call if you miss the ship (through no fault of your own) when on a Viator booked excursion. So reassuring if we had missed the ship, but in fact we never felt that there was any likelihood that we would do so!
A DIY DAY
As it turned out Cochi was quite an easy place to spend a low key, DIY day – other friends walked to a landing point for small passenger ferry across to the old town and spent a nice day there looking at the old Indo Dutch buildings, theChinese fishing nets and doing some shopping before returning to the port by Taxi – if we return to Cochi in the future that will be our plan for the day. There is very little at the port itself- although a little market has been set up just off the gangway there didn’t appear to be many bargains available.
Its a very personal decision as to when you takes a ships tour, when you opt for a privately organised tour or when you strike out completely on your own – it varies with your level of experience and how comfortable you feel with a particular continent, country or language. If you feel that a port destination is too unfamiliar to risk a day of DIY exploring then I would definitely worth a look at what Viator is offering for group excursions and compare it to what is offered in the Cruise line brochure. We felt it very well organised and with the missed port refund guarantee it seemed more sensible that booking and paying for a private tour for two. We booked and paid for this trip independently but we so impressed with Viator that we have since signed up as an affiliate partner. If you would like interested in finding out more about the exact tour we booked you can access it through this affiliate link…
I hope you enjoyed reading this Cruise Port Guide and that it will be useful to you. If we’ve tempted you to visit Cochin you can search for a cruise here..